Tuesday, 12 April 2011

When you think too hard when listening to OK Computer. (BSDA #9)

There's been a lot of philosophy sloshing round my head lately. Due to the influence of the work of Myles Dyer, which continues to interest, and also partly bewilder, me, and the upcoming practical events about which I have been moralising, that is, the royal wedding, the AV referendum and my exams, I've been rather too often contemplating the major metaphysical and philosophical questions of today, as opposed to, you know, revising, or some other socially useful activity. (Also my sentences are getting longer and more convoluted. Can you tell?)

Two days ago I managed to get a copy of OK Computer by Radiohead onto my iPod. This was necessary as I have effectively exhausted the capacity of my other examples of what I call thinking music, such as Sigur Ros, to direct my thoughts and emotions. Like any other human being of the last two decades, I have of course previously heard the album, but only in segments and without the time to give it the clarity of focus that is really necessary for an artwork of such stature.

Wikipedia suggests that the album contains references to themes of consumerism, social disconnection, political stagnation, transport, technology, insanity, death, modern life in the UK, globalisation, and political objection to capitalism. All of which are very interesting. As with all great art, however, as an independent piece it kind of falls apart. It is only when considered as part of the society it critiques that the album's genius can be seen. And this is what this last weekend has enabled.

I went to an aristocratic stately home, redolent with the imagery of a decaying and outmoded class, while all the same still occupying a privileged position within the society of Britain today, a view which can be clearly extended to the royal family, about whom I have previously made my feelings clear, the privileged bourgeoisie, who David Cameron laughably calls the "sharp-elbowed middle classes" and the hyper-wealthy, a group most clearly defined as City bankers, who of course take home sickeningly fabulous profits from their pie-in-the-sky gambling games with ordinary taxpayers' money, despite a failure so dramatic that it caused the greatest economic crisis since the Depression. (We learnt today, incidentally, that the ostensibly Independent Commission on Banking has refused to recommend legislation to separate the commercial and investment arms of our banks, which would have created a system similar to that in the USA after FDR's Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which perfectly controlled the excesses of the banking system until its repeal in 1999. Though sadly none of the other excesses of American life.)

Similarly, I've been taking more notice of advertising and in particular the perfect, impossible images of what one should aspire to that it creates. One thing that is incredibly irritating in this regard is when adverts are filmed with actors clearly only mouthing, and the sound is later dubbed on in some metropolitan studio. Maybe it's just me, but I find this effect extraordinarily dehumanising and asocial, perhaps a reflection of the essentially impossible task of living up to these created visions of social worth, a choice that regrettably we all seem to partly subscribe to, however powerful and positive the expansion of subcultures to include the previously marginalised is.

Which leads me to the internet. I have a truly ambivalent relationship with the rapidly changing internet society, caused by an essential ambivalence toward technology and its power to effect social change. While we have seen some momentous developments in recent months, which were at least in part to do with social networking sites (I'm thinking of course of the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia), there are so many examples of the way in which the internet now only serves the interests of the established status quo - by bringing us closer only to the minutiae of celebrity lives, Twitter has further distanced us from any meaningful control of power, and the fabulous profits now made by the major social networks at the cost of any real affinity for the consumer seems to indicate only the reification of the human beings who are ourselves continually creating such possibilities.

OK Computer, more than any other recent album (though there has been some magnificent work even this year, so anyone who tells you music is dead is a liar), makes me think about things - especially the individual and his relationship to a rapidly changing, information exchanging, power controlling new consumerism whose only unique selling point is its facility and meaninglessness. While not as dismal as The Bends it is nonetheless profound, and to me it presents in musical form the feeling of wanting to curl up in a ball and wait till it all goes away. As I said, I think too hard. It deadens my head, actually.

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